CHICAGO -- Anthony Rizzo was in place to welcome Kristopher Bryant to Wrigley Field. He was there for Javier Baez, Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras, too.
His leadership, presence in the dugout -- along with his skills as a middle-of-the-order hitter and a defensive anchor -- were essential to the Cubs winning 103 games in 2016, only four years after they'd lost 101 games in Rizzo's rookie season.
Christian Yelich, like Rizzo, is a complete player, a winner. Also like Rizzo, he secured his future early, signing a contract in spring 2015 that bought out his arbitration years and three years of free agency. He still has five years of control on that deal, at a guarantee of $44.5 million.
The Marlins are listening to offers for him.
You could plug Yelich into an established team such as the Dodgers or the Astros, and he'd be a face of the postseason next October. But his greatest value lies in becoming a difference-maker for a team building toward success, where he can set an example for younger teammates who have the talent to accompany him to All-Star Games.
The White Sox should be that team. They should do what it takes to make Yelich their Rizzo.
Few teams are as well positioned to make a deal in terms of both their inventory of prospects and their financial flexibility (which would potentially allow the White Sox to take someone such as Brad Ziegler or Junichi Tazawa in the deal).
When the Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon, they were primarily motivated to remove $333 million from their future payrolls. They got a better return when they dealt Marcell Ozuna, whom they were under no pressure to move.
The Ozuna trade, and the other two to a lesser degree, improved a farm system that MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis says still ranks in bottom third. But dealing Yelich -- a center fielder with a .369 career on-base percentage who has averaged 4.1 Wins Above Replacement in his four full Major League seasons -- and his five years of control could provide a major upgrade.
The Marlins are going to want the Sox top three prospects -- power-hitting right fielder Eloy Jimenez, right-hander Michael Kopech and $50 million Cuban center fielder Luis Robert -- but White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has declared them essentially untouchable. He insists he's not going to trade top guys to speed up his promising rebuild.
But here's the thing: The Sox have such a deep farm system that they might be able to assemble the most attractive offer without including Jimenez, Kopech or Robert.
There are six White Sox players currently in MLB Pipeline's Top 100, and all of them would immediately become the Marlins' top-rated prospect. That includes outfielder Blake Rutherford (40) and right-handers Dylan Cease (58) and Alec Hansen (91).
The White Sox should put together an offer that leads with a young Major Leaguer -- shortstop Tim Anderson or a starting pitcher from a group that includes Carlos Rodon, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer -- and then includes three strong prospects.
Let's say Rutherford is one of those, along with either Cease or Hansen. The other comes from a long list that includes former University of Miami catcher Zack Collins, former University of Florida pitcher Dane Dunning, first baseman Casey Gillaspie and 21-year-old outfielders Micker Adolfo and Luis Alexander Basabe.
The final package could look like this: Giolito (or Anderson), Cease, Rutherford and Collins.
That's a ton of talent. Maybe too much for someone who views this from the White Sox side -- and maybe the Sox can include a lesser prospect in the package if they agree to acquire a bad contract, such as those of Martin Prado, Ziegler or Tazawa. After all, they've got less than $10 million on the books for 2019.
Yelich is worth a heavy investment. He's as close to a sure thing as you can find on the market for a team with its eye on the future. He's only 26, and he should be in his prime in 2020, when the Sox hope to begin a run of annual postseason appearances.
Acquiring Yelich would make it easier to sell Guaranteed Rate Field to upcoming free agents such as Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, Charlie Blackmon or Andrew McCutchen. It could soften the blow of trading Jose Abreu (who could be in demand once J.D. Martinez signs).
Yelich can be special. He showed that in the World Baseball Classic, when he hit third for the Team USA squad that beat Puerto Rico in the championship game.
"He's no longer the young, quiet guy in the corner,'' then-Marlins teammate Tom Koehler said last spring. "He took a whole 'nother step. Him getting that taste of winning -- on the stage that he was on -- he's going to expect that now. He's going to want to do that again.''
The White Sox can give him chance to be a key piece on a team built to sustain success, and they should put together a package that gets it done.